*I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: 17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a sounding-board for her teenage frustrations, a surrogate best friend; but as she grows older, Organon grows with her.
As the world becomes a very different place, technology changes the way we live, love and die; massive corporations develop rival intelligences to Laura’s, ones without safety barriers or morals; and Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world. If it falls into the wrong hands, she knows, its power could be abused. But what if Organon is the only thing that can stop humanity from hurting itself irreparably?
I Still Dream is an utterly absorbing take on the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and PA-style software.
Mostly told from the first-person perspective of Laura Bow, the narrative forms a series of time-separated stories following the development of Laura’s Organon software, parallel to the development of the similar, but very different SCION software created by her father and co-opted by Mark Ocean and the Bow company (portayed similarly to Microsoft or Apple, but alongside these companies which also exist in the narrative universe).
In addition to the obvious plot of where such technology could lead and the inherent dangers, we see the personal journey of Laura (and Organon) and there is a continuing examination of what constitutes ‘personhood’. Laura adamantly maintains that Organon and SCION are constructs and should not be considered in human terms, but the narrative certainly leads the reader to consider what it means to be ‘considered human’ when we see Laura’s unemotional logic placed alongside Organon’s empathy and humour. Even the title, whilst explicitly linked to a Kate Bush song (‘Cloudbusting‘), also calls to mind Philip K. Dick’s examination of similar themes, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
The plot also provides an interesting human-based perspective on Theseus’ paradox (perhaps more well-known in the question of ‘your grandfather’s axe’, or for Pratchett fans, the Low King’s axe and the Scone of Stone). How much of us can be replaced and/or lost for us to retain the essence of what makes us human? How does this apply to illnesses like dementia, brain injuries or tumours, which may steal memories and personality traits, or evoke animalistic reactions?
In terms of structure, I did find the narrative jumps between time periods a little disorienting, as I got totally immersed in the story, only to have to reacquaint myself with what felt like new characters as the situation changed over the intervening gap. This was especially the case in the brief detour we made into the narrative viewpoint of Charlie. I fully understand why we needed a different viewpoint to Laura’s for this section of the plot, but still found the change interfered with the flow of the story.
I was also surprised at the choice to make what should have been a pivotal dramatic climax actually quite subdued, almost understated, but that actually worked perfectly in the context of the plot, and the realism of the handling of this event actually made it more terrifyingly believable.
The dispassionate tone of the main narrative voice makes Organon the most relatable character for the reader, and I was consumed by a desire to have my own Organon; to have this fantasy made reality, especially by the end of the novel. If nothing else I was sold on the drunken email check! James Smythe skilfully shows us two extremely different results from the posited technology: one dystopian, highlighting the worst of humanity; the other utopian, preserving the best. Does the potential good outweight the possible risks? Smythe posits that it may depend on who holds the technology and what the motivations are.
Sci fi lovers interested in AI technology and its implications for humanity will enjoy this considered and compelling story of what could (and may already almost) be!
My fingers flick through the cassettes, rest on my Kate Bush tape. My dad recorded this for me, from his vinyl. It’s still got the crackle, this tiny skip at the end. I put on my favourite song from it – I still dream, the first line goes – and that’s the one. I still dream of Organon.
I named my imaginary friend after the song. I dreamed of him, and then there he was. So when I was looking for a name for my bit of software, it seemed to be the only logical choice. I told myself I’d change it, but I never did. It stuck.
– James Smythe, I Still Dream
I Still Dream releases on Amazon on 5th April.